There is no denying that Australian’s have a love affair with solar. According to the Clean Energy Australia Report 2019 rooftop solar energy systems added a record-breaking 1.55 GW of new capacity to the electricity market last year and 1 in 5 Australian’s now have solar on their rooftop.

This trend shows no signs of slowing down. Six solar panels were installed every minute through the first two quarters of 2019. What’s more the size of solar systems are growing, with the average size for rooftop solar installations in Australia rising consistently from 1.34 kW in 2009 to 7.13 kW in 2018.

This incredible growth in solar adoption is clearly good news for Australia’s emissions reduction ambitions in the electricity sector. In its latest Quarterly Energy Dynamics Report the Australian Energy Market Operator reports significant declines in both operational grid demand and emissions intensity, with the largest decrease (in emissions intensity) occurring at midday and credited to increased penetration of solar PV.

These record-breaking numbers are starting to generate some interesting dynamics in the energy market. Already in South Australia the “off-peak” time for the grid (the time of minimum demand) is shifting from the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping, to the middle of the day when solar PV is at its maximum.

In July wholesale prices fell to zero or negative for the first time in all regions of the National Energy Market as cloudless skies and good breezes — combined with low demand — pushed the share of renewables to more than 43 per cent.

So all good news then? Well, perhaps not for much longer for those who have invested their hard-earned savings in the rooftop PV systems that are driving this trend.

The issue is that most solar homes use the majority of their energy in the early morning and early evening when their solar is not generating at its peak. They therefore rely on receiving feed in tariffs for the majority of the benefit from their systems.

This is a strategy that is already yielding poor returns. For example, since the NSW solar bonus scheme ended in 2017 the feed in tariff in NSW has dropped from 60c/kWh at the start of the scheme to an average of just 8c/kWh today while average electricity prices have risen to around 35c/kWh. This now means that for every kWh of solar energy a household exports to the grid they have to buy it back again at more than three times the price in the evening — adding hundreds of dollars to the annual energy bill of a typical solar household.

What’s more, with solar PV starting to drive wholesale energy prices down to zero in the middle of the day it’s not hard to extrapolate the future trend. How much longer will the energy companies continue to pay consumers a feed in credit for energy that they could purchase from the wholesale market for free? Anyone relying on a continuation of the current FiT arrangements to realise a payback on their solar investment should be making a plan B with some urgency.

Fortunately, there is another way for solar households to ensure they are gaining the maximum possible benefits from the panels on their roof — simply by consuming as much of their solar energy as possible at the time it is generated.

In theory it’s a simple strategy, just schedule usage of optional, non-time sensitive appliances (dishwashers, pool pumps, white goods, water heaters, etc) to run during the day rather than the evening. Even most heating and cooling systems can be run on a timer, allowing homes to be pre-heated and pre-cooled on solar power before their occupants arrive home for the evening. No need for a “smart thermostat”, a standard dumb thermostat with a timer will do.

Some solar homes using this strategy can even offset so much of their grid energy with solar power that their feed in credits exceed their charges for imported grid energy — resulting in a situation where their energy retailer pays them a refund every month!

However, while simple in principle many find that maximising the benefits from such a “solar shifting” strategy can be tricky in practice. The challenge is that electricity is an invisible commodity so it can be hard to know how much energy different appliances require to run and at what times there is sufficient solar output to run them. Get the balance wrong and it may not be apparent until the next quarterly energy bill arrives — by which time hundreds of dollars in potential savings may have been lost.

This need to make energy visible for solar homeowners was what drove us to create Powerpal. With the help of EnergyLab and the support of the NSW Government we have developed a super-weapon to help solar homes maximise their solar returns.

It’s a small device which connects optically to your existing utility electricity meter and relays real-time grid energy consumption information to an app on your mobile phone. This turns the solar shifting strategy into a real-world augmented reality game, a bit like Pokemon go for solar but with real cash rewards. The aim of the game is to use the real-time feedback from the app to minimise the amount of energy you purchase from the grid by shifting your appliance usage to match your rooftop solar output.

The Powerpal App

It turns solar shifting from a chore to a fun activity the whole family can join. It works particularly well for households who often have someone at home to schedule their appliance usage (such as young families and retirees) but even those who leave the house for work each day can often achieve fantastic results with a few simple electric timers ($9 from Bunnings).

So if you were thinking that a battery was the next step on your solar journey, take a moment to consider if that $10,000 investment is the wisest move. Solar shifting costs nothing to try and can deliver some amazing results!

If you’d like to try solar shifting and want some help to get started Powerpal is available for order online now for just $129 at including free next business day express shipping.